Frank Commentary

The 2009 recruiting season has officially begun with Notre Dame's first junior day being held yesterday. A good number of prospects invaded South Bend for their first look at Notre Dame, but Irish fans need to keep their eye on what's most important—the offer list.

I've never been a stars guy when it comes to recruiting, but I'll certainly take more stars than not. However, I don't think you can measure recruiting success by just stars alone. What's most important are knowing the needs of a recruiting class, which players were offered first, and how many of those players did Notre Dame eventually land.

The needs part of a recruiting class is much more vital than most realize. The Irish are suffering a needs problem currently at offensive line due to having only two total scholarship offensive line prospects in the fifth-year senior and senior class—two total. That lack of depth has been obvious on the field.

Notre Dame will also suffer a needs problem at defensive line this year. Not only have the Irish been missing on numbers, but they've been missing on elite talent, and that will also likely show its ugly head this coming season.

The Irish have to make sure they fill their needs in this class first and foremost. Stars and the glory will just be icing on the cake.

Irish fans are getting nervous because they feel Notre Dame is off to a slow start. That's what a 3-9 season will do to a team. Prospects tend to look at the program with a more skeptical eye, and it's head coach Charlie Weis and his staff's responsibility to convince these elite prospects that the Irish are headed in the right direction.

That is going to take some time. We won't see the flurry of commitments we saw at this time last year. And it will be frustrating to watch other teams like rival USC clean up on the elite talent in southern California before the Irish have much of a chance to get into the race. This is the effect of a 3-9 season. has released their initial top 100 players, and from that list, already 28 prospects have committed to other schools. While that top 100 will surely change, a good number of players will have made their decision by August, narrowing the talent pool for the Irish. One also has to remember on average approximately 25 percent of the national top 100 players won't be eligible to enroll in Notre Dame. That's not going to leave a lot of the top 100 left for Notre Dame to recruit. But don't focus so much on the top 100. Focus on the offer list.

Most pressing needs

OK, so what are the needs this year? What must ND absolutely do to fill their needs?

Offensive tackle is the most important need right now. Left tackle being the most important. The Irish will likely take four offensive linemen this class—three tackles and an interior player. Anyone who knows me knows I love me some linemen. O-line will be the most vital need this year so watch how this all unfolds.

Inside linebacker is another critical need. I feel Notre Dame needs to land two very talented inside backers with some speed. Mark that down.

Nose tackle is another important need. The Irish would love to land at least one elite guy and another very solid guy. Two will be the number, but landing one elite guy will be very important.

So get the scorecard out and write down: Two big-time offensive tackles (one being a left tackle), one projectable guy. One big-time interior guy. One big-time nose tackle. One projectable guy. Two elite inside backers who can run.

This initial list will be the most important needs for Notre Dame. For the class to be truly successful they'll have to meet these needs.

Next in line

Now you have to strengthen the depth of your football team by landing at least one very solid player at a number of positions. The Irish will never be able to consistently beat the elite teams until they have comparable talent. This is where depth becomes important because you can overcome an injury, and you can overcome what many people call "busts," and Notre Dame has had more than their fair share of "busts" over the years. Let's take a look.

Wide receiver: The Irish need to land one elite guy with some speed at wide receiver. Notre Dame certainly landed some excellent prospects last year, but they're missing a true speed guy at wide receiver to stretch the field. It was amazing how much Matt Shelton's speed opened up Notre Dame's offense a few years ago. If Weis and Co. can find another like Shelton, I expect the same thing to happen. One speedy receiver who can make plays in the open field is just what the doctor ordered. The Irish will probably sign two, but one elite speed guy is the most pressing need.

Outside linebacker: Notre Dame has just 18 sacks last season. I love the talent Notre Dame has signed recently at outside linebacker. The defense is going to be fun to watch in the very near future, but you can never have too many pass rushers. What I'd really like to see though, is a guy who can really cover in space. Coverage is also important in this defense, and that's usually the hardest part for any linebacker making the transition from high school to college. Notre Dame may sign two, but one elite guy is important.

Defensive end: There is a lot of promise in Ethan Johnson, Sean Cwynar and Emeka Nwankwo, but the Irish have to land at least one more elite guy to go with these three prospects. A big guy who can run would be ideal, but I'll settle for a big guy with heart….lots and lots and lots of heart. I think in this particular defense, at this particular position, effort is just as important as overall athletic ability, so look for a guy who gives great effort here. Hopefully he can run. The Irish will likely sign two, but one elite guy is most important.

Tight end: It seems crazy that I'm saying this considering the talent Notre Dame has landed the last two years at the position, but it's unproven talent thus far. While everyone loves the speed of guys like Mike Ragone, what the Irish really need is a bruising, physical tight end who can block well. Weis loves to use tight ends, and I think he has a few who can block, another is needed. Jake Golic isn't the biggest guy, but like his brother, he'll be very technically sound coming in if/when he's offered and accepts. The Irish won't need a guy to play right away, so size isn't the biggest need…attitude, want-to, effort and smarts will be.

Defensive back: The Irish have a good number of prospects at safety and corner already, but you have to add at least one quality corner and safety in this class. Three elite guys would be ideal, but we're not sure which position will need two top prospects and which will only need one. Jamoris Slaughter and Robert Blanton will decide that when they show up this summer. If they both stay at corner, safety will be the bigger need. The Irish have a lot of talent and depth at both positions, but its unproven talent behind the three known starters. Notre Dame has lacked elite defensive backs for awhile and is finally landing some elite talent. They'll need to continue on that path to make certain they can compete with the speed of the southern teams and teams on the west coast.

Keeping score

Get your scorecard out. So now we're at:

3 offensive tackles. At least two elite guys. One that can play left tackle.

1 elite interior offensive lineman.

2 inside backers. Both players who can run.

2 nose tackles. At least one being an elite guy.

1 speedy elite wide receiver.

1 great prospect at outside backer (hopefully covers well)

1 excellent defensive end. Hopefully an effort guy.

1 very solid tight prospect…..blocking being a priority.

1 elite corner prospect.

1 elite safety prospect.

That's 14 players. The Irish must land these 14 players to truly address their needs for next year. How well they address their needs will depend on how many of players they land out of their initial offers. Keep track of the official offers coming out, and wait and see how many of this first group of offers the Irish end up signing. That's how you'll be able to truly measure Notre Dame's success this recruiting year.

I don't expect Notre Dame to land a top 5 class this season. The effects of 3-9 are already being felt, but that doesn't mean the Irish can't sign a great class. Linemen never get the glory they deserve, but that's what Notre Dame really needs right now….big-time lineman. If they can get them in this class, the future looks very, very bright for Notre Dame. So while everyone else is obsessing over the flashy skill guys, Irish fans need to focus on the "big uglies," and the offer list. Get your scorecard out and let's start keeping score. Top Stories